On Friday, ABC News broadcast a new episode of their 20/20 series, calling it “the Devil in Gainesville.” It details the murder spree that left five local college students dead in Aug 1990.
Promotional content for the show was simply titled “Gainesville,” which some say is misleading. Scott Costello, Guide to Greater Gainesville publisher, would rather label the show with a description of what happened, rather than the location.
“No city wants to be ― or region wants to be ― represented by a singular incident that happened,” Costello said. “Whether it’s good or bad.”
Costello also mentioned that Gainesville has grown a lot in the 30 years since. He says these changes were not necessarily communicated in the ABC show.
“I don’t think it accurately portrays who we are. We’re not this tiny little college town anymore. I don’t think it represented us in the best light,” Costello said.
Costello was a freshman in 1990, and he says the episode likely opened some old wounds for those close to the incident.
Lauren Poe, the mayor of Gainesville, was a rising sophomore at the time. He opened up about reliving that experience in the community and feeling vulnerable.
“It’s been, I think, pretty traumatic for those of us who lived here,” Poe said. “It also is triggering and, you know, helps bring back the anxiety and terror that persisted in our city.”
He said that during those fearful weeks, he and his friends would choose one of their houses to stay in together, using strength in numbers to protect each other.
Poe thinks that entertainment media’s fixation on gruesome details might be harmful, especially to the families that have been dealing with their loss and media attention for decades.
“It’s not helpful to go over the gory details,” Poe said. “But we’re strong in Gainesville and those of us who lived here and were affected don’t necessarily need a sensationalized television depiction to remind us of that.”
In town, a mural memorializes the students on the 34th Street Wall. Poe encourages people to keep the victims and their families in mind to honor their lives.
WUFT News produced a podcast and web series on the murders last year with a focus on the victims, their loved ones, and how the trauma impacted the city, which can be viewed here.